Murray Utas is an Artist who acts, directs, creates, and produces in amiskwaciwâskahikan, colonially known as Edmonton. He is currently the Artistic Director at Fringe Theatre. If his name sounds vaguely familiar, you may have attended one of the numerous productions he has been involved with in the past twenty years. Or perhaps you’re familiar with Nextfest where he was the Festival Manager for five years, or maybe you are one of the thousands of high school students from smaller Alberta communities touched by his work with Azimuth Theatre: a company he worked for as a young actor. Or… maybe he was your neighbour back in the day, back in Bashaw, Alberta? Maybe that Utas kid grew up following a web of country roads that eventually led this prairie boy to Edmonton, a city that he now calls home.
Murray has been a mentor for a generation of Artists and continues to enthusiastically advocate on behalf of the Edmonton theatre community.
WHEN DID YOU START FRINGING?
I experienced my first Festival (and I was very young everyone) in 1989. I walked into a show where these two clowns were speaking gibberish and I was like, what is the thing I’m at? And what are they? And what I didn’t know is that this was the first Edmonton Fringe show of Mump and Smoot.
As an Artist, my first year was right out of theatre school in 1994 and I’ve been fringing ever since as a performer and a patron. I see as many shows as I can find because my tastes are quite different – they’re not mainstream. What I like about Fringe is that anything you’re looking for, you can find. It has a little bit of everything.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR JOB AT FRINGE?
Being present for things so I can say ‘yes’ and make them happen. The Fringe is so big. In so many ways, we’re support for Artists, future administrators, and so many other community groups. It’s my job to connect with people and figure out where we can help them out. Where all the pieces can fit together.
IF YOU COULD INVITE ANYONE, LIVING OR DEAD, TO FRINGE WITH YOU, WHO WOULD IT BE AND WHY?
The first person I thought about was Bukowski. How wild that would be? Just run around and see things together. It’d be off the hook. Like we might end up in another country or something; that’s how wild it would be.
WHAT IS SOMETHING YOU’RE LEARNING ABOUT RIGHT NOW?
I’m relearning how to tell a story. I’m watching the world around me, watching the ways Artists are telling their stories, and it’s not the same as before. The traditional dynamics in shows and arts organizations are changing. I’m trying my best to learn and listen to those coming next and see where they go – and figure out how I can support their journeys.
A beautiful quote from Judy Lawrence (former Fringe Theatre Festival Director) comes to mind – she was asked about what she wants Fringe to be in forty years. Her comment: I hope it’s unrecognizable.
Life is all about lifelong learning. And one thing I’m continuing to learn and rediscover is the courage to be unabashed in telling a story.
WHO OR WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
Artists inspire me every day. When you look at this world and realize that you see it in a different way, and then find others that see it differently, too. It’s not just limited to art and theatre, but that viewpoint of seeing things ‘differently’ fascinates me. The way in which you see something might be different from someone else. I’ve never seen the world through the lens of ‘common sense’ the phrase ‘common sense’ doesn’t make sense to me. I don’t understand what that means. So when I see someone else who sees things like I do, who sees the world in a different way, I’m drawn to that.
WHAT ARE YOU PASSIONATE ABOUT OUTSIDE OF WORK?
Music. Playing it, going to it, listening to it. It is such a departure in some ways but related to theatre. It’s something that I lose track of time with. There’s an escape that happens within it where: I just jammed for two hours, and I don’t know where those two hours went.
WHAT IS THE SINCEREST COMPLIMENT YOU HAVE EVER RECEIVED?
It was our second year of theatre school, and we were performing Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and I played the Pharoh. It was so wild the reaction audiences had for our production. Afterwards, we were encouraged to go to the lobby and interact with the audience – and it’s so amazing the love people have for Elvis; it doesn’t matter your age. So, I was talking to some humans, and I felt a little tug on my costume. This little human, probably six years old, looks at me and says: “You dance better than Michael Jackson.”
How do you not consider that the sincerest compliment ever!
If you want to read more about the amazing folks who work at Fringe, check out some of our other ‘Have You Met’ Blogs!